Dubai International Film Festival 2009

The 6th edition of the Dubai International Film Festival is back this month, from 9th-16th Dec. With over 170 films from 55 countries in this year's line up, here's my top 15 recommendations to watch this year:

Corso: The Last Beat

The iconic Beats of 1950s New York were the maddest, baddest poets of the 20th century, numbering wild types such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs and the subject of this revealing documentary, Gregory Corso. In 'The Lost Beat', the aged bohemian takes us on a tour of his early years, through France and Italy, through to Greece, retracing the halcyon, freewheelin' days of his Beat youth. Through an eclectic cast of characters and locales, Corso's memories of the sunny era of lost innocence are brought to life with candour, vivacity and wit.

Un Prophete (A Prophet)

A young, illiterate French-Arab career criminal, Malik arrives at an adult prison, and is immediately thrust into the jail's complex, cut-throat gang culture. As Malik, upcoming star Tahar Rahim is mesmerising; from his first 'missions' to satisfy a terrifying Corsican prison mafia boss (played by Audiard regular Niels Arestrup), through to his own violent rise through the ranks of the criminal underworld. A taut, gripping account of Malik's profound journey from nervous, overwhelmed petty con boy to mature, perceptive man, this visceral, magnetic thriller - adored by the critics at Cannes -- is one of the films of the year.

The Other Song

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In 1935, the Indian singer Rasoolan Bai sang, 'My breasts are wounded, don't throw flowers at me'. Never to be sung again, the song eventually got lost. Seventy-four years later, director Saba Dewan travels through Varanasi in southern India, in search of that forgotten song and the story of the women who inspired it. She encounters the modern-day descendants of the courtesans who, until a century ago, were amongst the most educated of Indian women. Today they're considered deviants. Yet, their stories are irrevocably linked to the making of modern India, and the transitions around the censorship of female sexualities and cultural expression.


Legendary Korean actress Hye-ja Kim plays the mother to 27-year-old Do-joon. Her entire existence revolves around her spoilt, selfish and frequently stupid son, who seems incapable of taking responsibility for himself and his actions. One day a young girl is found dead in an abandoned building and Do-joon is accused of murder. An inefficient lawyer and an apathetic police force make cursory investigations, leading to Do-joon's arrest for murder. Refusing to believe her son is guilty, and distrustful of everyone, Hye-ja channels all her maternal instincts into clearing his name. But in order to do this, she must find the real killer herself.

The Silver Fez

The Silver Fez is the much-revered prize for the Cape Malay choirs of Cape Town, South Africa. Each year, hundreds of choirs compete to be crowned the undisputed champions of Cape Malay music - a form of music that first arrived in the Cape on slave ships. In the film we see the wealthy, ultra-competitive Hadji Bucks face off against Kaatji Davids, a struggling house painter. The two choirmasters assemble their troops and prepare for a musical war in which treachery and pain are endured in the hope of glory.

Fantastic Mr Fox

A smart, sharp feature-length stop-motion animation of Roald Dahl's classic story, from idiosyncratic auteur Wes Anderson. Mr Fox (voiced by George Clooney) is a deceptively mild-mannered individual, living with his family in the English countryside. Although he had promised his wife (Meryl Streep) to settle down and renounce his wild days, by night, he is plundering neighbouring farms of their chickens. When three malodorous local farmers - Boggis, Bunce and Bean - decide that they have had enough of Mr Fox's destructive nightly prowls, they plan a campaign of terror against the dapper, furry fiend, forcing Mr Fox and his compadres to fight back.


It is the near future. Astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is completing a three-year mission to the moon, mining Earth's primary source of energy, Helium-3. It is a lonely job with only a robot to talk to and a broken satellite means he can't contact Earth. Luckily, Sam is due to return home in a few weeks. But then, after being involved in a near-fatal accident, he is incredulous to encounter a younger, angrier version of himself, back at the mission base hospital. Confined with what appears to be a sinister clone of his earlier self, Sam is fighting the clock to discover what is going on.

The White Stripes Under the Great White Northern Lights

The distinctive blues scratch'n'howl of enigmatic Detroit duo, The White Stripes echoes throughout this superb road movie-cum-concert film. Shot following the release of the pair's 'Icky Thump' album in 2007, it follows them across Canada as Jack and Meg White set out to play in every province of the country, in whichever environment comes to hand. So, we witness the pair thrash their distinctive noise out in locations ranging from town-halls to busking for a group of elderly Inuits - and playing a one-note concert! Set against panoramic Canadian landscapes, the film is, like the band themselves, utterly unique and distinctive.

Women without Men

The first feature film by Iranian artist Shirin Neshat looks at the lives of four Iranian women during the politically tumultuous summer of 1953. Fakhri, a middle-aged women trapped in a loveless marriage, must contend with her feelings for an old flame. Zarin, a young prostitute is devastated to realise that she can no longer see the faces of men. Munis, a politically- aware young woman is oppressed by her pious brother, while her friend Faezeh longs only to marry Munis' brother. As the political turmoil swells in the streets of Tehran, each woman is magically liberated from her predicament, finding hope in a beautiful orchard.


Vincent Gallo, Juliette Lewis and Udo Kier lend their voices to this dark, ingenious animated feature. Set in a not-too-distant, dystopian future, in a world fast running out of oil, 'Metropia' tells the story of Roger, a nervous man from Stockholm. With Europe connected now by a gigantic subway network, Roger finds himself assailed by mystery voices every time he enters the gloomy, sprawling subterranean system. A mysterious girl, Nina, initially seems as if she might have some answers for him - but as things get weirder, he realises he is becoming entangled in a intricate, sinister conspiracy…

Zanzibar Musical Club

An invitation to explore a millenary Muslim culture, where traditions are transmitted through music, 'Zanzibar Musical Club' goes deep into a culture where music is inextricably woven into the social fabric. This superb documentary is alive and pulsing with a musical mix of Arabic tones, Latin rhythms, Indian melodies and African drums.

Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces)

Pedro Almodovar's new film is a typically colourful mélange of darkness, passion, love and tragedy. Moving between the present day and early 1990s, 'Broken Embraces' is at heart, a tragic love story. Mateo Blanco is a film director, now blinded and calling himself Harry Caine. Penelope Cruz plays Lena, his former partner who was killed in the car accident that cost him his sight. Flipping back a few years, we encounter her in a relationship with sleazy stockbroker, Ernesto Martel, when she meets Blanco, casting for his next movie. The pair strike up a fateful relationship - with tragic consequences.

The Man Who Sold the World

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Enfants terribles of contemporary Moroccan cinema, Imad and Swel Noury's interpretation of Dostoevsky's 'A Weak Heart' is set in a war-torn, anonymous city where Said Bey stars as a young man who, superficially, would seem to have it all - a doting fiancee, impending marriage and a great life stretching out ahead of him. But, for some reason, our hero can't cope with this idyllic existance and begins a nightmarish spiral into insanity. Raw, hard-hitting and uncompromising, Noury's screenplay and direction, Bey's mesmerising screen presence and Dostoevsky's thoughtful parable coalesce into a crisp, gripping narrative from two of Morocco's hottest young directors.

Le Hérisson (The Hedgehog)

First-time director Mona Achache's charming, funny and thoughtful film will strike a chord with anyone who recalls the melancholic dog days of childhood. Paloma is a serious, but deeply bored 11-year old, who has decided to kill herself on her twelfth birthday. Fascinated by art and philosophy, she questions and documents her life and immediate circle, drawing trenchant and often hilarious observations on the world around her. But as her appointment with death approaches, Paloma finally meets some kindred spirits, in her building's grumpy concierge, and an enigmatic, elegant neighbour, both of whom inspire Paloma to question her rather pessimistic outlook on life.


The search for one's own identity, caught between two cultures, is at the heart of debut director Cherien Dabis's critically-acclaimed feature film. 'Amreeka' chronicles the adventures of Muna, a single mother who leaves the Palestinian West Bank with Fadi, her teenage son, with dreams of an exciting future in the promised land of small-town Illinois. In the heart of the Midwest, the Arab newcomers arouse a variety of reactions - but as her son navigates high school hallways the way he used to move through military checkpoints, the indomitable Muna scrambles together a new life cooking up falafel burgers at the local White Castle fast-food joint.

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